Matt Yglesias should stick to politics and philosophy and avoid issues of biology. In a blog post over at Tapped Yglesias writes (in part):
Last but not least, nothing whatsoever of practical importance hinges on whether or not life on earth originated as a result of intelligent design. The theory is exceedingly silly pseudo-science, but it doesn’t actually threaten anything. There is, moreoever, no reason to think it’s especially crucial for the average citizen to have an accurate grasp of state-of-the-art biological theory. Most people don’t understand quantum mechanics, general relativity, or any number of other scientific and technical topics and life goes on just fine.
I find it astounding, but not all that troubling, that Yglesias would advocate for scientific ignorance. But far more disconcerting is the claim that ID does not pose some concerns when it comes to biological research. Case in point, this post by Tara Smith. Since people don’t always click the link, let me summarize Tara’s post (with the caveat that I am not a epidemiologist who studies infectious disease–or more simply click the damn link).
- In 1945 scientists suggested that bacteria might develop resistance to anti-microbials due to evolutionary processes.
- Currently we know that the concern expressed in 1945 is now a reality.
- But, science doesn’t sit still so researchers looked for alternatives to the now less efficacious anti-microbials.
- Scientists looked at our own innate immune system and this sparked interest in peptides that could kill the bacteria (phage therapy).
- It was thought at the time that evolutionary processes would be unlikely to come up with resistance to this kind of treatment.
- However, scientists being curious people decided to do what Intelligent Design theorists don’t, they tested the idea.
- Low and behold, the strains of strains of E. coli and Pseudomonas fluorescens that the scientist used in their experiments developed resistance to this type of treatment.
So what does all that mean? Well, if scientists didn’t think to actually test the possibility of bacteria evolving defenses against this type of phage therapy, research might have plunged on ahead and such a therapy might have been deployed on a wide spread scale. The bacteria would evolve, and thus our own innate immune system would be compromised. In short, by basing an experiment based on evolutionary theory, a suprising and highly useful result was found. So, is ID harmless? Well ID suggests that some changes are simply not possible via evolutionary processes. Scientists thought that the evolution of resistance to phage therapy wasn’t likely, turns out they were wrong. Could ID have lead researchers to a different and potentially very dangerous result? I hope that question gives some people (like Matt Yglesias) reason to re-think their position.